New Delhi/Hyderabad: Lawmakers from the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh shifted the campaign for a separate state to Parliament on Wednesday, stalling proceedings in the Lok Sabha and posing a fresh challenge to the Congress-led coalition government that has just bought peace with the opposition.
Telangana members of Parliament belonging to the Congress party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) that’s spearheading the campaign and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Andhra Pradesh’s main opposition, forced three adjournments of the Lok Sabha, demanding that the Centre start the process of bifurcating the southern state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal opposition in Parliament, supported the demand, urging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make a statement on the issue that has polarized the state of 76 million people and sparked a “non-cooperation movement” by Telangana activists who have vowed to boycott the national census and not to pay taxes and utility bills.
As the Prime Minister looked on impassively, the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, said governance had come to a standstill in the Telangana region with 400,000 government employees having gone on a “pen down” strike.
A statement by the Prime Minister pledging to bring a Bill during the budget session to pave the way for creation of a Telangana state would be sufficient to heal the situation immediately, said Swaraj.
The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) confronted the new challenge just a day after agreeing to the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to probe alleged irregularities in the 2008 allocation of second generation telecom spectrum and licences, breaking a logjam that disrupted the winter session of Parliament so that the budget session proceeds smoothly.
TRS leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao said on Wednesday that his party would keep the Telangana issue alive in Parliament as long as the UPA government doesn’t spell out its stand on Telangana.
In Hyderabad and 10 other districts of Telangana, a general strike enforced by supporters of a separate state ended on Wednesday after shutting shops and commercial establishments, schools and colleges, restaurants and petrol pumps and taking public buses off the roads for two days. Eleven members of the state assembly from Telangana were suspended for a day and ordered out for attempting to disrupt the presentation of the Andhra Pradesh budget.
In 2009, home minister P. Chidambaram said the Centre was committed to initiating the process of forming a separate state, persuading Rao to end an 11-day hunger strike.
“The government is obviously having second thoughts over the creation of a Telangana state,” said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. “It’s a demand that goes back to the 1960s, goes beyond political parties and has very popular support in the region.”
He added: “The Telangana issue is a very major challenge to the ability of the United Progressive Alliance to demonstrate statesmanship. It (forming a separate state) will of course open up a Pandora’s box, but you cannot keep it closed in a democracy.”
Intervention by the Congress leadership persuaded the party’s lawmakers from Telangana to remain calm until 28 Feburary, the day the Union budget will be presented.
A delegation of 11 MPs from Telangana met the Prime Minister, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal to seek a speedy all-party meeting to discuss options suggested by a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna to resolve the issue.
“Pranab Mukherjee has assured us that he would take up the matter after the budget,” said Madhu Goud Yaskhi, Congress MP from Nizamabad. “The government would soon initiate the process of discussions with other parties.” One of his party colleagues threatened suicide in Parliament.
The open defiance of the party line precedes state assembly elections due in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala before May.